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Jeff Genyk was a businessman out of college.

A quarterback and punter at Bowling Green State, he went on to a career in materials management and international purchasing for the automotive and oil industries.

10 years later, Genyk was at the bottom rung of college football.

On the staff at Michigan's Grand Rapids Community College, he worked with signal callers and tight ends.

For some, it may be a major downgrade. For Genyk, son of a Michigan football captain and longtime coach, it was a chance to enter the coaching ranks.

"I was really fascinated by the strategic part of the game," Genyk says.

"I realized that I really wanted to have the opportunity to do something that I had a passion for.I had a great passion for sports and working with young people."

Bryan Anger and Giorgio Tavecchio received a light reading assignment recently, and it wasn't from a UC Berkeley professor.

It was from Genyk, now a special teams coach for the Cal football team.

He handed out a Sports Illustrated article detailing the spike in explosive plays from NFL special teams. The message was not so subtle.

"You have to develop an environment where special teams is a want-to and not a have-to," Genyk says. "That happens by understanding the important aspect of those plays."

Special teams are all too often a lose-lose proposition: The unit hardly ever gets noticed ... unless something goes wrong. In his first year at Berkeley, Genyk has been passionate about changing the culture of football's most thankless aspect.

He has done plenty since his arrival in January to emphasize how the entire squad is affected by special teams.

"The most significant aspect I enjoy is, you really develop repoire with all the players," Genyk says. "Because virtually everyone on the team is involved in some shape or form with the special teams."

At every meeting during spring practices, Genyk showed video of a bowl game that was impacted by a special teams play.

Other pressure simulations were more direct.

Genyk would arrange cones into a box, often along the end zone, and have his placekickers tee off. Every kickoff that landed inside the square meant one less team sprints. The same went for field goals at the end of practice.

"The whole team was watching, the coaches would bang on your helmet as you're taking your steps, poking at you, yelling at you," Tavecchio recalls. "You just got to execute your fundamentals, do what you've done thousands of times."

Indeed, Genyk's biggest contribution has been honing his specialists' mental strength - helping them think of every motion as routine, regardless of their external environment.

From physical presence and posture, to visualization techniques and mental check-lists, Genyk leaves no stone unturned.

"He's very energetic," Anger says. "There's not many teams in NCAA football that have a special teams coach who knows what he's talking about. Some people will tell you that you need to be mentally strong, but they don't give you the tools to do it."

Tavecchio jokes that Genyk "won't stop at anything." When it comes to his coach's pursuit of a football career, the kicker couldn't have been more right.

Four years after arriving at Grand Rapids, Genyk broke through the Division I level as a defensive graduate assistant for Northwestern in 1994. From there, he became director of football operations and started moving up the program's coaching ladder.

Calling him a jack of all trades would be an understatement.

Special teams. Linebackers. Running backs. Safeties. Genyk coached them all throughout his tenure with the Wildcats.

And during his 12 years on the staff, he never missed an opportunity to learn from college football's brightest minds, including Gary Barnett, the late Randy Walker, and Kevin Wilson (now the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma).

"I did everything from making great coffee to calling the plays," Genyk recalls. "I was one of the guys who try not to have anybody beat me to the office. I was just like a sponge, trying to learn as much as possible and being as hard a worker as I could."

That hard work has been shown early dividends at Cal.

Heading into last week's match-up against Washington State, the Bears ranked in the nation's top 16 in both punting and punt returns. After finishing dead last in 2010, Tavecchio has added seven yards to his kick-off average to rank fourth in the conference this year.

Genyk's decoration makes certain that everybody notices and keeps improving.

Walk into the locker room and you'll see a giant points board, filled with names of every special teams member.

Anger earned points for his saving tackle on a punt return last Saturday.

Tavecchio receives some for every kick-off that clocks four seconds of hang time.

"It's always the first thing you see, the special teams stuff," Tavecchio says. "That just kind of ingrains in your mind how important this is to win games, to get that 'W.' It's a way to try to incentivize focus on special teams."

He's already speaking Genyk's language.


Ed Yevelev covers football. Contact him at [email protected]

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